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Judging by the masonry at the Smith Apartments, they once were a nice place to live.

But now, boards cover the windows of the lower floors. Signs on the doors warn trespassers to stay away. The building, 226 S. 300 East, is one more downtown apartment complex that has closed either because of bankruptcy or other financial problems.Others are scattered throughout downtown, including the Imperial, another brick building only two blocks from the Governor's Mansion on South Temple.

"More and more apartments have been boarded lately," said Roger Borgenicht, director of Assist Inc., a private non-profit group that provides grants for low-income people to repair their property.

"Low-income people need low rents," he explained. "But if you charge the $175 to $200 per month these people can pay, there isn't enough cash flow to do the rehabilitation that needs to be done in these buildings."

After three months of forbidding anyone to tear down a residential building, the Salt Lake City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night it hopes will stem the rapid loss of houses and apartments in the city.

Under the ordinance, anyone wanting to demolish a house and replace it with a parking lot, vacant lot or business must go before the city's Housing Advisory and Appeals Board. If the board decides the house or apartment building can be salvaged, it will inform the property owner of various inexpensive ways to renovate - including low-interest government loans - and will encourage the property owners to fix, rather than destroy, the building.

However, if the property owner still wants to destroy the building after 90 days, the city must grant a demolition permit.

"This is a compromise between the community councils and our staff," said Lee King, director of the city's Community and Economic Development Department. "It's going to give us the opportunity to ensure the applicant has explored all avenues before demolishing a house. A lot don't know about the different programs available to help them fix up a structure."

King said most of the people who apply for demolition permits are homeowners or landlords who know of no option other than destroying a house they can't repair.

King admits the ordinance won't stop someone determined to destroy a house, but he and other city officials hope at least it will make people aware of the city's shrinking housing stock.

Borgenicht said nearly 400 houses and apartment buildings are boarded in Salt Lake City. About 2,500 have been demolished since 1980. A member of the Housing Advisory and Appeals Board, he said the 90 days will be a good cooling-off period for would-be demolishers.

"It's really a marketing period," he said. "It slows down the process so those houses that are viable are given a good chance to be saved."

Borgenicht had wanted a tougher ordinance, one that would force people destroying a house to pay money to a fund that would be used to build low-income housing. But he is satisfied with the ordinance passed Tuesday night.

"I think this will be one additional piece toward helping preserve the city's housing stock," he said. "But to be successful will require a sum of a lot of little acts. There is no one solution."


(Additional information)

Application process

After three months of not allowing any demolition of residential buildings, the Salt Lake City Council has approved an application process:

1. Anyone wanting to demolish a house and replace it with something other than housing must apply to the Housing Advisory and Appeals Board.

2. If the board thinks the house or apartment building can be salvaged it will encourage property owners to fix the building instead of demolishing it.

3. If after 90 days the property owner still wants to destroy the building, the city will grant a demolition permit.